Monday 19 February 2018

'No conflict of interest' at play insists Erasmus following Munster's rout over Cheetahs

Munster 51 Cheetahs 18

Munster’s Alex Wootton goes over in the corner to score his fourth try of the game despite the efforts of Sergeal Petersen of the Cheetahs. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster’s Alex Wootton goes over in the corner to score his fourth try of the game despite the efforts of Sergeal Petersen of the Cheetahs. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Such was the ease with which Munster ripped the Cheetahs to shreds, you had to wonder what was going through Rassie Erasmus' head.

Here he was watching his current team shorn of the majority of their front-liners destroying a South African side who, deep down, Erasmus will be desperate to see do well.

Ian Keatley kicked 11 points. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley kicked 11 points. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

After all, the 44-year-old will return home in a matter of months to assume control of the Springboks and woeful displays like the Cheetahs delivered in Thomond Park on Saturday won't sit well with the soon-to-be new supremo of South African rugby.

For now at least, Erasmus can reflect on another job well done and while he rightly moved to dampen the expectations in Munster, there were plenty of positives in the eight-try demolition job.

To include two Academy players in the starting XV - Liam O'Connor and Sean O'Connor - and to see both of them bully their opposite numbers was hugely impressive, while a recent graduate in Alex Wootton grabbed the headlines with a four-try haul.

The Cheetahs, like their South African compatriots the Kings, haven't exactly endeared themselves to the Guinness PRO14 in their opening two games. Conceding 93 points and 14 tries will do that.

Chris Farrell of Munster breaks away from Rynier Bernardo, left, and Charles Marais of Cheetahs. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Chris Farrell of Munster breaks away from Rynier Bernardo, left, and Charles Marais of Cheetahs. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Erasmus spent time with the Cheetahs back-room team in Limerick last week, but he insisted that sympathy was in short supply.

"No, I am full-on Munster," he said.

"They are my friends, but when we play Saracens, Schalk Burger is there who is one of my friends, and Schalk Brits is there, but I definitely want to beat them because I am Munster and they are Saracens.

"My love is with Munster because of not just what I went through, but because I am working for them and my loyalty is still here. But yeah, (there is) no conflict of interest."

Alex Wootton of Munster scores his side's third try of the game despite the efforts of Robbie Petzer of Cheetahs. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Alex Wootton of Munster scores his side's third try of the game despite the efforts of Robbie Petzer of Cheetahs. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

On the pitch, the messy coaching situation certainly hasn't had an negative impact on the players, but with two tough trips to the Ospreys and Glasgow coming up, Erasmus' sense of realism is fully justified.

"It's nice to have that, but as I say, I have also seen things happen, we are playing really well and then the next week you get a massive smack in the face," the director of rugby maintained.

"It's nice that things are working, but it's working against certain defensive systems. The Cheetahs have a drifting defence, which makes it a little bit easier to get yards.

"Next week you face a defence that pushes really hard and puts you under pressure. But I am going to lie if I say I am not happy with the way we are attacking currently, and defending."

The contest was as good as over at the break and with Munster leading 22-6, the only question that remained was how long would it take the hosts to seal the bonus point.

Alex Wootton of Munster is tackled by Makazole Mapimpi of Cheetahs. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Alex Wootton of Munster is tackled by Makazole Mapimpi of Cheetahs. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Their fourth try duly arrived eight minutes after the restart courtesy of Jean Kleyn, who crashed over for his third try in two games.

Wootton crossed twice in either half before he was called ashore for Simon Zebo, who wasted little time in getting in on the try-scoring action.

Impressing

Wootton is a product of the Exiles system and since impressing with the Ireland U-20s, the talented 23-year-old has been destined for bigger things.

The winger was part of an electric back-three as Andrew Conway continued to enhance his reputation from full-back, while Darren Sweetnam dazzled the 15,144 supporters with a sparkling array of passing off both sides.

"In Afrikaans there is a saying, it will probably come out the wrong way, 'it's nice when the young dogs get into the neighbourhood and they start lifting their legs and showing the old dogs there is guys coming through'," Erasmus smiled.

"Alex is definitely physical, he's got outright pace. Maybe aerially he's not as good as Sweets and Conway, (Keith) Earlsie and those guys, but he'll get there and he's working hard at it, he's a young, fit guy.

"He's physical and he's got outright pace. He'll get found out on his weaker points as he goes on, but he works well. He's got a bright future. It's up to him to make sure he develops with every game and we are helping him do that.

"I don't see him at this stage as moving around (positionally). I think he is just finding his feet at this level and we shouldn't now make him one of those guys who's Jack of all trades and master of none. He can be a master at wing and we must help him to do that."

Tommy O'Donnell got the try-scoring underway after six minutes, while Chris Farrell, who was outstanding alongside Jaco Taute in midfield, crossed for his first try for his new club. Ian Keatley kicked 11 points.

Munster may have tougher games coming down the track, but they are quietly building a squad that looks equipped to cope with the demands of both the PRO14 and the Champions Cup.

"We didn't really rotate last year, I put the best 15 out to see how far we can go in the competition," Erasmus added. "This year, while taking chances, we will have to keep guys fresh for 47 weeks. That was my big lesson I learned."

Having formed a squad that looks to have the required strength in depth, it's a pity that Erasmus won't be around long enough to see those lessons pay off.

Munster: A Conway; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, J Taute (R Scannell 59), A Wootton (S Zebo 59); I Keatley, D Williams (J Hart 61); L O'Connor (D Kilcoyne 58), R Marshall (N Scannell 58), S Archer (J Ryan 58); J Kleyn (F Wycherley 71), B Holland (capt); S O'Connor, T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue (R Copeland 65).

Toyota Cheetahs: C Blommetjies (R Benjamin 56); S Petersen, F Venter (capt), W Small-Smith, M Mapimpi; R Petzer, S Venter (T Meyer 73); C Marais (A Mgijima 59), J du Toit, J Coetzee (T Botha 68); R Bernardo (J Basson 76), R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, N Jordaan (A Koster 28).

Ref - B Whitehouse (Wales)

 

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